Art and the Future
A great reply here from Murdo Macdonald to Jonathon Jones piece ‘Why Scotland should follow its art and vote no to independence’
This is a difficult piece to which to respond because of its premise. I’ve no idea what the ‘British union’ is, but British has always been a useful regional European identity, like Scandinavian, and Britain is no more dependent on the structure of government of its constituent parts than is Scandinavia. The problem is that the word ‘British’ is normally misused as a synonym for English.
One might have hoped that, as a Welshman, Jones would have understood that. The fact that he does not is interesting. But such ignorance is not unique to him. It was equally the case for me. And perhaps that’s the thing on which I can reflect. One of the drivers of my own commitment to independence has been my acute awareness of how ignorant I once was of my own culture except in the form of stereotypes. Perhaps Jones finds himself in a similar position. Certainly many people in Scotland still feel unable to vote Yes because they have been denied information for so long that they believe the myths of Westminster. But Westminster’s myths are myths of Empire, not examples of good governance. They are myths that lead to illegal wars on the one hand and Londoners being unable to afford property in the city of their birth on the other. These are the myths that lead people in the West Country and north of England to feel as little sympathy with the public schoolboys who run Westminster, as do people in Scotland.
The Kenyan writer Ngugi describes this actively promoted ignorance when he writes of the annihilation of people’s belief in ‘their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves.’
That was the situation facing me. Paradoxically it is also the situation that faces so many English people, who perhaps more than any other nation find their culture obscured by the imperial mythology of Westminster. So it’s hard to criticise Jones, because he thinks the argument is about the break up of Britain and it isn’t. I’m delighted that so many Scots have won the Turner Prize and are involved in the Generation show. I’m equally delighted that I knew so many of them and recognised their art by writing about it long before it was validated by Tate Britain or the National Galleries of Scotland. And I’m delighted that Tate Britain, in its recent redevelopment, has taken the trouble to advocate one of Scotland’s most internationally successful artists, Alan Johnston, although the National Galleries of Scotland seem to be completely unaware of his work.
For me international presence is the real point. It’s not about Britain, it’s about the world. The man who gave his name to the Turner Prize isn’t England’s greatest artist because he was a great painter, he’s England’s greatest artist because he was a great European. Turner tells you something real about England but what’s left of the political structure in England is a travesty of politics. To see the parties fighting over a tiny Europhobic space for electoral advantage is contemptible, and the necessity of remaking politics becomes ever more pressing. What many in England and Wales are beginning to realise is that such political remaking will be far more possible in the wake of a Scottish Yes vote, for Scotland will have set the precedent for rejection of the status quo.